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Opinion: Anti-Semitism Vs. Islamophobia | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Members of the Muslim community walk behind a banner that reads, “Islam = Peace” during a rally outside Madrid’s Atocha train station, January 11, 2015, in solidarity with the victims of a shooting by gunmen at the Paris offices of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and against Islamophobia. REUTERS/Juan Medina (SPAIN – Tags: CIVIL […]

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks Muslims have gotten used to being subject to suspicion and accusation. This is only worsened by the invalid generalizations that link terrorism with the Islamic faith and those who blame all Muslims for the crimes committed by a renegade minority, a minority that has killed more Muslims than members of any other faith. Even before 2001, terrorism was often associated with Arabs, something that became so damaging to their reputation that the word “Arab” itself became something of a slur in the minds of many people in the West and beyond.

After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, sensitive issues surrounding Islam and terrorism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have returned to dominate debates and discussions, raising questions as to where this current tense situation is leading. The world has shown true solidarity with France in the face of the attacks and representatives of several Muslim countries participated in the unity march in Paris. Many voices emerged from the Muslim world, not only to express strong support for the war on terror, but to reiterate that Islam cannot be blamed for the actions of these terrorists. At the end of the day, the terrorists are nothing more than a tiny group that is roundly rejected and denounced by the vast majority of Muslims. But this did not stop Muslims from finding themselves, once again, at the center of suspicion and feelings of growing hatred. This is either the result of the constant and deliberate distortion of Islam, or out of general ignorance, or simply because Muslims today are an easy target.

In what can only be described as biased remarks to say the least, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that he rejects the term “Islamophobia” in describing anti-Muslim prejudice because this is often used as a weapon by Islamist apologists to silence their critics. Strangely enough, while Valls did not deny the existence of animosity and hatred towards Muslims and Islam, he insisted on not using the specific term to describe the phenomenon.

Ironically, in the same interview, Valls spoke about the risks of a new wave of anti-Semitism coming from France’s immigrant community, particularly those from the Middle East and North Africa. He also said that any criticism of Israel or its policies is, in and of itself, anti-Semitic and that the public anger towards the war on Gaza was nothing but a cover for anti-Semitism.

Valls previously said that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism, a position that was also earlier expressed by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In a speech to the Israeli Knesset last year, Harper described anti-Zionism as the new face of anti-Semitism. Such discourse has a number of flaws, not least the fact that anti-Semitism existed in Europe long before the arrival of Arab and Muslim immigrants to the continent. Nazism, one of the main features of which was anti-Semitism, was a distinctly European phenomenon—this is not something that originated in North Africa or the Middle East.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also did not miss out on the chance to exploit Valls’s remarks. Earlier this week, Netanyahu warned that a new wave of Islamization is sweeping across Europe, not forgetting, of course, to link this to creeping anti-Semitism.

This general focus on anti-Semitism and the fears of France’s Jewish community raises questions among Europe’s Muslims regarding the lack of attention being paid to the growing animosity and hatred of Islam. This is something that we can see in the constant association of Islam and Muslims with terrorism and the repeated use of epitaphs and expressions like “Islamist terrorists,” to the point that the true picture has been distorted in the minds of many people. Many today are unable to differentiate between terrorism and Islam—a religion embraced by nearly one and a half billion people, the vast majority of whom reject extremism and terrorism and strongly denounce the practices of of a tiny minority of terrorists.

It is true that many voices emerged in France and Britain to emphasize that Islam as a religion has nothing to do with terrorism. Those include French President François Hollande, who in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks said that Muslims are among the first victims of extremism, emphasizing that Islamophobia and anti-Semitism should be equally intolerable. The problem is that these positions get lost amid the clamor and consternation about terrorism and Islam and the continuous demand for Muslims to proclaim their innocence after every terrorist attack.

Extremists, whether in the Muslim world or the West, are the ones who benefit the most from this atmosphere of tension and hatred. Hate preachers employ these issues, as well as general tensions and wars, in their speeches to recruit youth who feel marginalized, lost and targeted.

The war on terror is complex and has multiple fronts and is definitely in need of international cooperation. But victory will not be achieved through security measures or airstrikes alone; it also requires tackling this atmosphere of hatred toward Islam and Muslims.